Posts tagged ‘Success Stories’

“You just think you can’t do it then you do it.” (Success Stories Series)

(Reprinted from Heartland Community College, July 2011 “Alumni Spotlight” – Normal, Illinois)

Bett Atkins

Name: Bet Atkins
Class: Heartland Class of 2005
Degree: Associate’s in Arts

Interviewer: Colleen Reynolds, Director of Alumni Relations and Outreach


Colleen: The alumni spotlight shines this time on an alum who’s a single mom of seven kids who turned to Heartland at age 45 to start a new career, one that recently led to an award for her compassion.

Bet: Hi. I’m Bet Atkins. I graduated from Heartland Community College in 2005 with an Associate in Arts degree.

Colleen: I know that you’ve gone on and received your nursing degree as well.

Bet: I have. I graduated from Mennonite College of Nursing at Illinois State University in 2007. I’m currently employed at Advocate Bromenn in the I.M.C.U. I’m a day nurse and love my job.

Colleen: I.M.C.U., what does that stand for?

Bet: It stands for the Intermediate Care Unit. Originally, I was hired to work the step-down unit, which is one south, right outside the ICU. Last year, they merged my unit with the medical unit and made us one big unit. We were all together up on the fifth floor now.

Colleen: I’m going to take you back to the beginning of your academic career and ask you what led you to Heartland?

Bet: I knew that there were going to be some changes in my life and I knew that I would need to care of my children. I was a single, or I figured I was headed to be a single mom and I was. I started during the summer of 2003 and took two classes, then bumped up to full-time and took everything that I could take so I could graduate.

Colleen: So had you been out of the classroom for awhile?

Bet: Oh lord! I have been out of the classroom since really when I graduated from high school all those years ago in 1976. I took some college courses, got married, was a stay at home mom for a long time. I managed a bookstore in Peoria for awhile, and I loved that job. I just figured that it wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. I had the opportunity to take care of my grandmother when she was dying in 1979 and that cemented the idea that I wanted to be a nurse. I figured one day I woke up and I thought I’m going to be 45 this year and if I don’t do it now, I’m not ever going to do it and that at least I wanted to try. If I can’t do it and manage the kids and take care of everything else, then okay but I’ll have known I had given it my best shot. I just started those classes and taking those classes. I had great support, had a lot of fun. I had great professors. I loved Edie Wallace, Ali (Abu-Amr), Steve Rummel. Just a lot of encouragement from the professors here and a lot of encouragement from my church family.

Colleen: What else about your experience here helped you succeed and get that Associates degree and then move on?

Bet: I think most of it was probably self-esteem. Heartland gave me a big boost in my self-esteem. You just think you can’t do it then you do it. Then you think okay I can do this and I can move on to the next step. It was just like I could get tutoring if I wanted it. I used Project RISE at times. Heartland had the daycare which there were times I needed those services. Like I said before, I worked part-time in the Financial Aid office as a student worker and met lifelong friends there. There are people that I love there that really encouraged me and wanted to see me achieve my goals. It’s easier when you have someone from the back pushing you. It really is.

Colleen: It sounds like you felt supported as a whole person, not just in the classroom.

Bet: I really did. I met people here that I love and would consider that they would be lifelong friends of mine. There were other students my age that were middle aged who were doing career changes. You tend to stick together and help eachother. You’re not eighteen or nineteen, just out of high school. You have full-time responsibilities as parents. Some of them worked outside jobs so going to school had to be the priority.

Colleen: So you went on and obtained your nursing degree. Where did that lead you?

Bet: It led me to Advocate Bromenn. I love my job. It’s fabulous. I can work three days a week, twelve hour shifts. I can pick up extra shifts if I want. It gives me time to be a mom which is a priority. When I leave work, 99% of the time I feel like I’ve accomplished something, that I have helped someone else. I feel like I had so many people help me as a single mom going to college, raising kids and a granddaughter that it’s kind of like payback and paying it forward that you go and take care of people. You know that they’re not at their best and you do what you can to make their day easier.

Colleen: Well then you must be very good at what you do because you received a compassion award in the first quarter of this year. Tell me about what that meant to you to receive that kind of an award or recognition of what you do everyday.

Bet: It was really nice, but I’d be just as happy to going about my own business at work. It’s very nice to be recognized by families. It was a family who thought that I had gone above and beyond taking care of their loved one. That’s amazing that they took the time to write the company and the hospital recognized me. I’m very appreciative of that but that’s not why I do what I do. I do it because I love people and I want things to be good for people. I want their outcomes to be good. I want to be able to set an example to newer nurses and my peers. What we do is very hard both physically and emotionally. You can get through the day by making someone’s life better just by being kind and loving. I think that to do what we do as nurses we have to genuinely love other people or you couldn’t do it day after day.

Colleen: Is there anything that you learned here at Heartland that has translated to what you do everyday, either academically or just about people?

Bet: I think all of my classes at Heartland prepared me for the next step at Mennonite. They gave me a good base foundation to build on the skills and knowledge base that I learned at Heartland. I think that just being back in a diverse population that was a lot of fun. You get to hear ideas and think about things that you have not thought about in a long time. I want to be as open minded as possible about everything. What I learned here helped me to be a better nurse. I loved my time here.

Colleen: You almost get a little misty-eyed when you think about it.

Bet: I actually do. For me, it was a really hard time in my life. Heartland gave me something to focus on, just class after class after class. It kept me from sitting there thinking my life is terrible. If you have something to focus on and if you have a goal and if you do your best to attain that goal, it might take you a little bit longer, you might be 45 years old in class with a bunch of 18 year olds, they were all great.  They accepted me. It was like they were other children of mine. I felt that it was such a good thing for me. It was the best move I could make. Everybody was just so supportive. It’s just such a great cultural experience here. There’s things to do and outside of classroom events. We’re lucky we have Heartland.

Colleen: Is there anything else you would like to say to students attending Heartland today?

Bet: I’m not anybody special. I’m just Bet. If I can do it, you can do it. I occassionally run into single moms who were floundering andI tell them my Heartland story. I went to Heartland when I was 45 and I had kids at home. If I can do it, you can do it because there is nothing so special about me. It was just determination and wanting to be able to provide a good life for my kids. It was my kids who were my driving force. I want them to have a good life and Heartland enabled me to move to the next step which was at Mennonite and then be able to get my job. I just can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

Colleen: Bet Atkins, we think there’s something special about you. We’re happy to have you in our latest spotlight. Good luck and continued future success.

Bet: Thank you very much, Colleen.

“Inspired by life …” (Success Stories Series)

(Reprinted from Cape Fear Community College, Alumni Spotlight, 10.28.10)

CFCC Alumnus Chelsie Ravenell models some of his latest design work. Photo Credit: Reese Moore

By Alicia Gronneberg, CFCC Foundation Intern

Chelsie Ravenell was born in Charleston, South Carolina and relocated to the Wilmington area in 2003 to play basketball at Cape Fear Community College [Wilmington, North Carolina].  Growing up in the “ghetto” (as he describes it) Chelsie realized after high school that he needed to do something with his life and CFCC gave him that opportunity.

“Cape Fear Community College gave me a second chance at life,” says Chelsie, who returned to school at age 24.  “In high school I got all C’s, but while I was playing basketball at Cape Fear I had a 4.0.”

Chelsie was enrolled in the business management program but also had a not-so-secret love for fashion, modeling, and designing clothes.  While Chelsie had always been interested in fashion and refers to himself as “the stylish dude who won best dressed in high school,” he found his true inspiration for fashion design after his uncle passed away.

“My uncle lived in my grandmother’s house. When he died we were cleaning it out, and I came across a brand new sewing machine—that’s when I taught myself how to sew.”

Chelsie started designing some of his first fashions while he was still enrolled at CFCC and while his friends often teased him for it he never let it hinder his work.

“The guys would be going out, and I would be staying home to sew,’ says Chelsie.  “I would go out the next night wearing something I made and people would really like it—it got me excited about what I was doing and continued to motivate me to make more and more.”

A few years later Chelsie created his clothing line, called KennethBeatrice, in honor of his grandmother and uncle—it was because of them that he began to fulfill his dream.  “Inspired by Life,” is the moto that Chelsie lives by.  He says he was inspired to design by the people who have passed away. “Through my line the people I have lost live on, and I will live on through the people who wear my line.  With that motto and mindset you never run out of ideas.”

Chelsie now spends his time between his hometown of Charleston, New York City and Los Angeles where he is a “one many army—designing, making, and marketing” his clothing line. He was recently featured as a semi-finalist during Charleston Fashion Week’s 2010 Emerging Designer Competition.

“She is very determined …” (Success Stories Series)


LLCC Spotlight(Reprinted from Lincoln Land Community College web site, “In the Spotlight, retrieved 9.26.11)

80-year-old student inspires young college students

“It’s never too late to achieve your dreams,” says Marian Johnson

Ask LLCC students, faculty and staff about Marian Johnson and you’re likely to hear comments such as “she is incredible,” “she exudes an extreme amount of joy to everyone she meets,” “she has so many life experiences,” “she is an inspiration to many” or “she is very determined.”

At age 80, Marian was determined to graduate with an associate degree.

Marian led a full life before returning to school. At 27, she stepped in to raise two younger brothers, aged seven and 14, when her mother passed away. After both boys were out on their own, she began taking care of another brother who was injured in World War II. Throughout her life, she also served as a foster parent, helping to raise and mentor 17 children.

Retiring from Illinois Bell in 1982 after 37 years, Marian enrolled at LLCC to work on an associate degree in nursing. However, she was impatient to get back to work and switched to LPN classes offered at the Capital Area Career Center.  She then worked as a private duty nurse, retiring from St. John’s Hospital in 2003 and from Presbyterian Home in 2007.

In 2008, Marian returned to LLCC. She credits Dr. John Roberts, professor of history, with encouraging her to finish her degree. “Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from here. I have received a lot of support from faculty, staff and fellow students,” says Marian.  “LLCC is an extraordinary place no matter what your age. The younger students don’t treat me any differently; they involve me in conversations and discussions. They don’t seem to mind that I’m an ‘old lady.’”

Marian clearly inspires her fellow students. Her 19-year-old peer tutor, Natalie Richardson (shown here at Commencement with Marian) commented, “I think I learned more from her than she learned from me.  She taught me about life, which is so useful. Although she is 80, she’s embracing and pursuing something she’s always wanted to do.”

Marian graduated with her associate degree this May and says, “I’d tell anyone thinking of coming back to college that it’s never too late to achieve your dreams.”

“He filled the stage with energy, passion and focus.” (Success Stories Series)

Mauricio Pita-Goncalves: Actor, Dancer and Singer

(Reprinted from Naugatuck Valley Community College “Alumni Spotlight,” July 2010)

Mauricio Pita-Goncalves, a 2009 graduate of the visual and performing arts theatre and dance program at Naugatuck Valley Community College [Waterbury, CT], and former vice-president of the College’s Student Government Association, was accepted into Yale University’s 2009 Summer Conservatory for Actors at the Yale School of Drama.

The highly selective program chooses only 30 students out of thousands of applicants worldwide. The conservatory only selects academically and artistically strong students who are willing to explore new concepts in a challenging environment by working with Yale alumni, faculty and theatre professionals as well as in workshops at the O’Neill Theatre Center and one-on-one classwork.

“Before Mauricio became a student of mine, I saw him in theatre productions at our College,” said Elena Rusnak, professor of English and dance at Naugatuck Valley Community College. “I was drawn to this remarkable young man because he filled the stage with energy, passion and focus. His seriousness of purpose is always recognizable and his determination unsurpassed by any student I have had in my long teaching career.”

The program is an intensive conservatory based on the principles of Stanislavski and focuses on the personal and professional growth of its participants. The conservatory consists of six different elements of acting which include: play analysis, acting class, voice and speech, improvisation and mask, movement and scene study. Patrick Diamond, director of the Yale Summer Conservatory for Actors, has worked extensively on Broadway, in Italy and in the U.S.

Mauricio has received awards including Outstanding Theatre Artist: Student of the Year 2007-08, the Who’s Who Among American Junior College Students, the Billie Mae Collier Scholarship for the Performing Arts – Voice and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa and National Scholars honor societies. He has worked extensively as an actor with the New Zenith Theatre, the Warner Theater in Torrington, Connecticut and the Terpsichorean Dance Ensemble. He appeared in the summer of 2008 at the New York International Fringe Festival’s New York premiere of Symphony Pastorale and Fugue Series by Los Angeles playwright Robert Barnett. Following his Yale work, Mauricio will attend Marymount Manhattan College as a drama major in fall 2009.

Hollywood Screenwriter (Success Stories Series)

(Reprinted from “Alumni Spotlight” July 2010, Naugatuck Valley Community College web site)






John Fusco, accomplished Hollywood screenwriter, credits Naugatuck Valley Community College [Waterbury, CT] with the start of his successful career. He has written eight major motion pictures, six of which he also produced. You might recognize a few of the titles: Babe, Crossroads, Thunderheart, Young Guns and his latest, The Forbidden Kingdom, featuring Jackie Chan and Jet Li together for the first time. He also wrote the Academy-Award nominated Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. His research experiences on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation led to the controversial Thunderheart in 1992, an acclaimed expose of federal abuses in contemporary Native American communities. Fusco also went on to write the Native-themed ABC mini-series Dreamkeeper and the popular Disney epic Hidalgo.

A Waterbury native who grew up in Prospect, John was a high school dropout working in a factory and playing music in local nightclubs. He turned to Naugatuck Valley Community College, where he met his wife, Richela Renkun, to rebuild his life on his own terms. John’s sister, Kathleen LeBlanc, is an associate professor of human services at the College.

He fondly recalls, “The supportive environment and stimulating faculty encouraged and challenged me to streamline my goals. Although I was out of school for six years, Naugatuck Valley Community College helped prepare me to transfer to the school of my dreams — NYU Tisch School of the Arts.”

While at NYU, John won the prestigious Nissan Focus Award for students which led him to collaborations with DreamWorks and actor Robert DeNiro.

He is the author of the novel Paradise Salvage, currently earning rave reviews in Britain.

“Seeking another path …” (Success Stories Series)










(Reprinted from Community College Times of the American Association of Community Colleges, 4.4.11)

Richard Leigh –  Virginia Highlands Community College

The list of performers who have recorded songs composed by Richard Leigh reads like a who’s who of country music: George Jones, Dixie Chicks, Reba McEntire, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, Kathy Mattea, and Mickey Gilley, among many others.

Eight Leigh compositions—among them “Come From the Heart,” “Put Your Dreams Away,” and “That’s the Thing About Love”—rose to the top of the charts. His biggest hit, Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” won a Grammy for Country Music Song of the Year in 1978. He has been inducted into Nashville’s Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, owns a space on the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences Star Walk and has produced songs that have sold more than 50 million records.

Not too shabby for a kid born in the hollows of Washington, D.C., who spent his high school years in the notably un-countrified suburb of McLean, Va.

Although Leigh always loved country music, his desire to go straight from high school into the music business was thwarted by his adoptive mother.

“She said, ‘Please go to college, because no woman is going to want to live with a guy who sits around on a couch and plays his guitar all day and doesn’t make any money,’” Leigh says. “I’ve since found out many women do, but I told her, ‘Alright, I’ll go to college.’”

After a high school guidance counselor recommended a career in forestry, Leigh, who liked camping and canoeing well enough, enrolled in the Haywood Technical Institute (now Haywood Community College) in North Carolina.

“After nine months, I realized I hated every minute of it,” Leigh says.

Seeking another path 

When Leigh looked into Emory & Henry College in Virginia, which his best friend attended, he was told he’d have to wait until the following fall.

“Then I applied to Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) [Abingdon, VA] and they took me right on the spot,” he says.

A chance encounter with William Van Keyser, head of the VHCC drama department, lead to an invitation to act at Barter Theater, the local professional company.

“I said I don’t act, and he said that doesn’t matter,” Leigh says. “I said that’s great, but does it pay anything, because I was putting myself through college. He said no, but you get school credit if you change your major, so I changed my major to theater.”

After three plays, Leigh had to join the union to continue performing at the theater.

“I had my Actor’s Equity card before I finished community college, which was unheard of,” Leigh says. “When I applied to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to finish my bachelor’s degree, they told me no one had ever applied to the theater department there as a pro.”

After graduating from VCU in 1974, Leigh moved to Nashville to break into the music business as a singer and songwriter.

“When I went to Nashville, I thought—naively—that all singers wrote their own songs,” Leigh says. “I got down there and found they needed songs because singers didn’t always write them. Turned out I was pretty good at making them up—better at that than singing.”

A year later, “I’ll Get Over You,” a song he wrote for Crystal Gayle, reached No. 1 and was nominated for Country Music Awards Song of the Year. “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” came out a year later and the next 30 years saw a stream of hits.

A desire to succeed

Leigh says his top ingredient for writing songs is a strong desire.

“I’m just of average talent, of average intellect, nothing ever stood out about me except my strong desire,” he says.

And while he’s usually introduced as “the guy who wrote ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,’” he considers “It Ain’t Gonna Worry My Mind” his greatest achievement.

“It’s a song Ray Charles recorded on a duet album with Mickey Gilley,” Leigh says. “Ray Charles is my idol, and his singing it was probably the greatest thing that could happen to me. And the second verse talks about the state of Virginia—it’s a very personal song.”

One other song with great personal resonance is “The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” which he wrote after happening upon obituaries of his father who, along with his mother, died when Leigh was 2½ years old.

“It was a 10-million-selling record for Reba McEntire, and I think it’s still considered Reba’s greatest hit,” Leigh says.

Leigh, who with his wife, Shannon, lives on a Tennessee farm, keeps busy writing songs, lecturing, doing voiceovers, and performing concerts. In each of the last three years, he has performed benefit concerts at VHCC, which he remembers warmly as the place that gave him his start.

“The fact that I would walk into VHCC and it would change my life is phenomenal,” Leigh says. “Think of me, an orphan who walks up the steps of this school and is allowed to have an affordable education and rise to the top of his profession. That’s pretty amazing, and I couldn’t have done it without the school.”

Keeping Things Running (Success Stories Series)

(Reprinted from New Mexico State University Alumni Spotlight Archives, 2010, Dona Ana Community College)



Jay Armijo was raised in Sierra County and brings a home-town perspective and passion to his position as executive director for the South Central Council of Governments. Having worked for several state agencies, two councils of government, and as a County Commissioner Jay has worked directly with all thirty-three New Mexico counties helping to provide services to Veterans, Senior Citizens, small businesses, and communities that lack adequate infrastructure.

Jay attended the Dona Ana Community College [Las Cruces, NM] Automotive Technology program and graduated in 1988. He has worked in the automotive industry as a technician as well as owning and operating his own automotive repair business. Jay currently holds ASE and General Motors Certifications and attributes his passion for diagnosing and repairing vehicles as the key element that gives him an exceptional ability to facilitate solutions to challenges facing communities.


Where Were They Then? (Success Stories Series)

(Source:  Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges,

The list below tells us where the successful alumni are now, but it also indicates the two-year colleges where they began their careers.  It is unlikely (although possible) that when Eduardo Padron entered Dade County Junior College, he said “One day I’ll be President of Miami-Dade Community College.” Or, that Gwendolyn Brooks said “One day I’ll be the nation’s Poet Laureate.”  But, that is where they are now.

Everyone has to start someplace.   The old saying “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” is true for all of us.  The “Notable Two-Year College Alumni” list shares with us that first step and where they were well into their journey.

Where are you?

Notable Two-Year College Alumni:
  • Gwendolyn Brooks, Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize Winner, Wilson Junior College
  • Eileen Collins, NASA Astronaut, Corning Community College
  • Jennifer Dearman, Intelligence Officer for the Missile and Space Intelligence Center, Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas
  • Steve Francis, Professional Basketball Athlete, San Jacinto Community College
  • Fred Haise, NASA Astronaut, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
  • Tom Hanks, Oscar-winning Actor, Chabot College
  • Queen Latifah, Rapper and Actress, Borough of Manhattan Community College
  • Jim Lehrer, National News Anchor, Victoria College
  • James McLean, State Representative, Arkansas State University Mountain Home
  • Kweisi Mfume, President/CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Community College of Baltimore
  • Captain Scott Moore, Pine Bluff Fire Department, Southeast Arkansas Community College
  • Eduardo Padron, President of Miami-Dade Community College, Dade County Junior College
  • Dr. Susan Patton, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, East Arkansas Community College
  • Nolan Ryan, Major League Baseball Athlete, Alvin Community College
  • Deborah Wieneke, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity Benton County, NorthWest Arkansas Community College

From a “Writing Program” to Writing Books (Success Stories Series)

(reprinted from “Featured Alumni” at Pima Community College’s web site, 6.13.2011)

Nancy Turner

Nancy Turner’s name may be familiar to you as a Southern Arizona writer.  With four published novels, Nancy’s career is soaring.  An older student, Nancy says she never dreamed she could become a published writer, but her teachers at Pima [Pima Community College, Tucson AZ] gave her the belief in her ability and the courage to go for it.

Her first novel, These Is My Words, set in and around Tucson in the 19th Century, was published in 1998 while Nancy was earning her AA degree at the College.

She went on to earn a BFA at the University of Arizona while working on her second novel, The Water and The Blood, set in Texas and California during WWII.  Nancy is effusive in her praise of Pima’s writing program and “gives back” by periodically teaching at a writing workshop on writing and researching the historical novel.

The G.I. Bill Means Business for a Marine (Success Stories Series)

(Reprinted from Wilson Community College, “Alumni Story,” retrieved 5.23.11)

Ricky Wilson

I joined the United States Marine Corps right out of high school in 2000. I have been stationed in South Carolina, California, Arizona, North Carolina, and Iraq. In late July of 2005, I transitioned out of the military with plans on pursuing a college degree. In my military career I had some great experiences, plus it has helped me pay for most of my schooling with the GI Bill. As stated by Ned Dolan in one of my favorite quotes, “Freedom is not free, but the U.S. Marine Corps will pay most of your share”

Being from Savannah, Georgia, I was far away from family and friends. I moved to Wilson from my last duty station at Cherry Point, North Carolina to be with my fiancée in 2005.  I wanted to go to college and my fiancée along with many of my military friends helped encourage me to do so. I chose Wilson Community College [Wilson, NC] because it was close to where I lived, worked, and it offered the program I was interested in. I started at Wilson Community College in the fall of 2005 taking a full-time load and working full-time. I got married in July of 2006, and my wife helped support me all of the way through the military and college.

In November of 2007, I was informed there was a job opening at the College in the purchasing department by a few classmates that said the job description sounded like a perfect fit for me. I applied, received an interview, and started my new job full-time at Wilson Community College as Purchasing Specialist in January of 2008. I graduated from Wilson Community College in May of 2008 with an Associates Degree in Business Administration.  The guidance and direction that I received from all of the instructors is well appreciated and I thank them for that.

Currently, I am taking college transfer courses to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. The degree that I earned from the college has definitely made an impact in my life. It has given me a job that I love, a better work schedule, more money, plus my job now applies to my degree and challenges me everyday. Thanks to Wilson Community College I have a degree that has made me a more knowledgeable and marketable person in society.